Dishcrawl is a company that hires local “ambassadors” to lead foodcrawls around various neighborhoods in the ambassador’s city. The LA Beat was lucky enough to be invited on their tour of Little Cambodia in Long Beach. If I had to select my own crawl, that would have been the one.
The Wednesday night event started at 7pm at Grand Paradise Restaurant. Our ambassador, Jessica, was able to interpret between us and the restauranteur, Hong, for a short Q&A. Little Cambodia came to life as a community “after the war” as each person we encountered very simply described the period of war, strife and genocide Cambodia experienced from the 60s into the 70s. They also told me the one other large Cambodian community in the US is in Lowell, MA. (According to Wikipedia, Little Cambodia is also referred to as Cambodia Town and Little Phnom Penh, and covers the mile between Atlantic and Junipero on Anaheim Street. Long Beach is home to some 50,000 Cambodian residents, many of whom immigrated between 1975 and 1979).
The cuisine was described to us as a marriage of Chinese and Indian influences. No one mentioned Thailand or Viet Nam, although some of the dishes and flavors were distinctly Thai to us. At Grand Paradise we were served a Beef Salad, which was most reminiscent of Thai food, and Crispy Salt & Pepper Shrimp that reminded me of the salt shrimp at Ocean Seafood in Chinatown. We were then presented with something I had never seen before. Steamed Catfish arrived blanketed in something reminiscent of masa. We asked Hong about it and he said that he pours sauces over the fish and then steams it. So maybe it works like an English pudding.
We were grateful for the short walk down the street to Siem Reap Restaurant. Some food tours really take you on a long hike. The owner, Huey, and I got along like a house on fire, discussing the differences in palates between Cambodians and Americans. I could have ordered a cold beer and talked to him all night. It’s fantastic to meet someone who has such a passion for food it is practically a calling.
Siem Reap served us intensely spiced chicken wings, another Thai-like Chicken Salad, and the beef sticks called “Sach Ko Angh” for which the restaurant is known. There was a mysterious flavor profile to the beef sticks I just couldn’t place. We also received a complimentary dish called “Prahok Ktis” which consists of an assortment of fresh raw vegetables and a thick sauce of ground pork for dipping. We finished off our meal with a small dish of coconut milk and pumpkin. All that was missing was the pandan.
By this time, most of the other restaurants in the area were closed. Jessica got creative and set up our next stop at a Mexican Restaurant, El Sauz which was technically in Little Cambodia. The food was good, but after the bright and exciting flavors we had just experienced it was a bit anticlimactic. Jessica had also hoped to show us Babette Bakery, but it was also closed. She had thought ahead and bought a fruit and custard tart from them earlier which was served at El Sauz.
Overall, the Dishcrawl was a success. Dishcrawl does not repeat tours, which has its pros and cons. The “ambassador” does not get to really know the neighborhood indepth and you can’t recommend a particular crawl to friends. But it keeps things fresh, and you can go on crawl after crawl.
Someone did mention the price, $60 a person, was a little steep although it is comparative to similar tours. Someone commented that had they been given free reign with $60 in any of those restaurants they could have eaten better. However, you wouldn’t have known what to order. The crawls are great for unfamiliar neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves. They show you where to go, what to order, and introduce you to the area. I admit I might have been a little sheepish at one time just boldly walking into one of the Cambodian restaurants, but now I feel really comfortable with the menus.